Netizens call for more help for elderly

Updated: 2012-11-14 03:01

By WANG HONGYI in Shanghai (China Daily)

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Most people want the government to invest more money to care for the country's ever-growing elderly population, an online poll has found.

Out of the 8,476 Chinese polled, about 80 percent called for more money to go into the system over the next 10 years.

The majority of respondents were born in the 1970s or 1980s, and more than half said they struggle to care for their elderly parents because of pressures of work and living costs.

Other concerns raised in the survey, conducted by the China Youth Daily Social Survey Center, included the shortage of care homes and rehabilitation services, as well as elderly relatives' loneliness and geographically restricted medical insurance.

"My mother has chronic diseases and has to see the doctor regularly," said Li Zhiyang, 33, who for a time moved his parents into his Beijing home.

"I had to send them back to Chongqing because my mother's medical insurance couldn't be used in the capital.

"Living costs in Beijing are not low. Without social insurance, my parents felt uneasy," said Li, who, like many young people from single-child families, works far from home.

The fast-growing aging population has made the issue of how to provide care for elderly people even more urgent.

China had more than 190 million residents aged 60 or older as of 2011. According to government estimates, by 2050, one-third of the population will be over 60.

According to the poll, only 5.5 percent of respondents said they want to send their parents to a nursing home.

However, there continues to be a lot of pressure on nursing homes, especially in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.

"Many people apply to live in our nursing center, but we don't have enough beds," said an employee of Shanghai No 3 Social Welfare Home who did not want to be identified.

Shanghai has 625 nursing homes with a total of 97,000 beds, which is equal to about 3 percent of the city's aged population. The situation is similar in Beijing, which has 82,000 beds.

According to an August report by the China Philanthropy Research Institute, affiliated with Beijing Normal University, China has only 300,000 caregivers, and most of them are unqualified.

The report estimated that about 11 million caregivers are needed to care for 33 million elderly with various disabilities.

"Governments should work out policies to guarantee adequate care for the elderly, which is an essential part of stable development," said Lu Hanlong, a professor at Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Sociology.

"A complete pension and social welfare system for the elderly should be established. With this, the elderly will not worry about their basic needs after retiring," he said.

The China Youth Daily survey also found about 64 percent of respondents want the government to expand coverage for pension plans, and 52 percent said a gap in pension plans between urban and rural areas should be eliminated.

Over the past decade, the country's medical insurance coverage for the elderly has expanded considerably as 98.3 percent of elderly people living in rural areas were covered by medical insurance in 2010, up from just 8.9 percent in 2000, according to the China National Committee on Aging.

"Government should increase the input and add the insurance for healthcare and rehabilitation, which will be much needed among the elderly but not covered by the current insurance system," Lu said.

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